MANILA – Philippine annual inflation sped up for the first time in five months in February due to faster increases in food and transport costs, likely giving the central bank little reason to consider lowering interest rates.

The consumer price index (CPI) rose 3.4% in February from a year earlier, the statistics agency said on Tuesday, which was above the previous month’s 2.8%, but still within the central bank’s 2% to 4% target for the year.

Economists in a Reuters poll had forecast annual inflation at 3.1% in February, within the central bank’s 2.8% to 3.6% projection for the month.

One of the main culprits behind the February uptick was rice inflation, which accelerated to 23.7% from last year, the fastest in 15 years, in a move blamed on base effects and elevated rice prices in the world market.

Core inflation, which strips out volatile food and energy items in the consumer basket, eased to 3.6% versus the previous month’s 3.8%.

The central bank last month kept its benchmark rate steady at 6.50% for a third straight meeting, expecting inflation to settle within target this year. It meets next to review policy on April 4.

ING Economist Nicholas Mapa said the central bank would likely keep rates at current levels for an extended period, in a post on social media platform X. — Reuters